Miss Penelope Mary Armitage Jones (Part 2)

Penelope 1

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

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The spaceship was not what she’d expected. It turned out the resemblance to a terrarium was more true than she’d realised. The large glass ball that made up the cockpit and cabin was also full of plant life. Potted trees stood alongside small shrubs, and mingled in amongst them all were small beds of herbs, flowers, and grasses. A makeshift walkway of cleared floor area led between them all, but even that was narrow. Penelope almost knocked over two trees and stood on some grasses before she was able to sit on one of the dull metal outcrops that worked as seats. She sat down with a wince, the mushroom shape belied the actual hardness of the furniture. Grace sat down on one across from her, and the beige man seated himself near what Penelope considered must be the front of the vessel. It was hard to tell, the whole thing was largely symmetrical, and there seemed to be no controls of any kind.

Grace smiled, looking around at the makeshift glasshouse. ‘I love what you’ve done in here. I have a number of indoor plants at my house too. They really make the room, don’t they?’

The beige man turned his globular head. ‘These are not decorative. They are samples, collected from your world.’

‘Oh, right, of course,’ Grace said, as through this was a perfectly normal statement to have made, as though this was a perfectly normal situation to be in. Her calm acceptance was for some reason infuriating to Penelope. ‘Do you not have trees then where you’re from?’

‘No,’ the beige man said as he turned back to look out of the glass dome. ‘Vegetation is very scarce, and mostly feeds on our own biological matter. Your worlds flora’s ability to synthesise energy from light is truly remarkable.’

‘Isn’t that funny,’ Grace said, looking at Penelope. ‘That’s what Pen’s been studying, isn’t it, Dear?’

‘Yes,’ Penelope said, not interested in telling this alien of her research. In fact she felt she should be the one asking questions here. ‘Tell me, how long have you been on our planet?’

‘I have only been here for the past five months, but other members of my race have been aware of your world since your nineteen eighties. We surveilled this planet for decades, but only started manned missions around three years ago. We have learned a lot in that time.’

‘How to speak our language, for one,’ Penelope said.

‘That is correct. Noise frequencies are mostly used on my planet during communication as a way to emphasise a point. What your species has done with it is exceptional.’

‘How do you communicate otherwise?’

‘Light displays, of course.’ His bulb lit up with ribbons of light. They moved and danced and exploded within the casing. Patterns flowing into other patterns, dripping molten light in a vivid display.

‘What did you just say then?’ Grace asked, awe and delight on her face.

‘That we are ready to leave,’ he intoned. A tendril of light extended from his head to reach down towards the interior of the ship. As it did the vessel began to move forward. The doors of the airplane hanger opened and they passed through them and up into the sky.

Penelope reached out to brace herself but realised she needn’t have bothered. There was little movement from within the ball. She could see the metal exterior moving around the globe, but they stayed perfectly stabilised.

Another tendril left the beige man’s dome and Penelope saw a shimmer of light pass over the ship. It made the fuselage look like light dappled water, wavering in and out of view. ‘Are we invisible now?’ she asked the beige man.

‘Correct,’ he told her.

‘How does that work?’

‘Light refraction,’ was all he said.

‘Hm, you know we have scientists working on the same technology,’ she told him.

‘Yes,’ he said, his bulb lighting up with flares of light accompanied by an odd vibration.

Penelope looked at him, confused for a moment before deciphering the action. ‘Are you laughing at us?’ she asked with her most haughty inflection.

‘Yes. Your race has achieved interesting things, but when it comes to manipulation of light you are like…’ he let the sentence hang for a moment, then asked, ‘what’s something that is less than a baby?’

Penelope decided not to answer the question. Instead she looked out at the land passing below. It rushed by, details only becoming apparent if she really focused on them. She wondered just how fast they were going. Fast enough to get to make her meeting, she thought with a small smile. Why, at this rate, they’d probably beat the plane they were supposed to be on. She’d might even have a bit of extra time up her sleeve, which she could use to go over her presentation one more time.

She couldn’t believe she was so close to giving it. Well, she couldn’t believe a lot about this day, but still, the thought made her tremble. Seven years of research, late nights and early mornings, so much time given to learning, exploring, expanding, and now she was about to stand in front of some of the greatest minds on renewable energy and tell them she’d cracked photosynthesis. Not only that but she had discovered out a cheap, easy, way to store its products, solved the energy crisis. If today went well, if it went the way she hoped, the world would be changed. Energy would turn from a commodity into a simple staple of life, endlessly accessible. No different to air. Which in itself was fantastic, but the further implications were what really excited her. Yes, people would no longer have to pay electricity bills, but with endless amounts of energy, human beings as a whole could achieve so much more. Supercomputers, that until now were limited by the amount of power they required, would no longer have those limitations. So what if some amazing machine needed the energy it usually took to run a country for a day? They could have it, and more. Desalination plants could be set up around the globe, and drinkable water could be delivered to every person on the planet all for the cost of the energy to run it, which would now be nothing. And with unlimited energy common space travel would become not only achievable, but inevitable. So much could be done, the next step of human existence, and it all fell on this presentation going well.

Penelope thought it was good. Mostly. At the very least it wasn’t bad…she hoped. She knew she wasn’t always the best communicator. In fact, she was usually terrible. Grace had told her the presentation was good, she thought, but then she would have to say that wouldn’t she, being her grandmother and all. Still, she had encouraged her through every iteration of the presentation Penelope had practiced on her, had even played out every time like she’d never heard it before. And she had offered some useful edits, mostly on the delivery, and it had helped.

Penelope looked at her grandmother sitting across from her. She had her big Grace smile on as she watched the world go by, and Penelope knew she deserved an apology. Yes, she’d been late, but that was Grace, as was endless support, and Penelope knew she wouldn’t be even a fraction this close to her goal without her.

Penelope rose and wove her way through the plants to sit beside her grandmother. Grace looked at her, her smile as big as ever. ‘Isn’t this wonderful, Pen?’ she said.

‘Yes, Grandma, it is.’ Penelope paused, never good at being open. ‘I, um, I just wanted to say sorry.’

‘Did you? Well that’s nice. What are you sorry for, dear?’

Penelope rolled her eyes. Ever since she’d been a child it had been the same. It wasn’t enough to just say sorry, you had to say what you were sorry for. It had infuriated her as a child, and admittedly still did, but she could see the point. Sorry’s were easy, it’s just a word, stating the way you’d hurt someone was different, that ensured you wouldn’t do it again.

‘Sorry for yelling at you,’ Penelope said.

Grace looked into her eyes and gave a soft smile. ‘I don’t even remember it.’

Penelope smiled back and was about to thank her for the offer to put the argument behind them, when she saw the confusion on her grandmothers face. ‘Are you joking?’ She asked instead.

‘About what, dear?’ Grace replied.

Penelope’s stomach sank. Grace looked out the window again and smiled once more. ‘Isn’t this wonderful, Pen?’ she asked. Penelope’s stomach sank further.

‘Yes, Grandma, it is,’ she said, her voice hollow.

‘Have you ever seen so many stars?’ Grace asked, but Penelope didn’t hear her, she was too busy tracking back through recent memories, connecting dots to reveal an image she hadn’t seen before. How her grandma couldn’t remember if the presentation was in the morning or the evening, how she’d forgot to set an alarm, how she often “faked” senility. Except, now she saw that there was nothing fake about it.

Her grandmother’s words made it through to her. Stars?

Penelope looked up and rather than seeing land and sky instead saw the vast field of space go whizzing by them. Earth, Brisbane, and any hope of giving her presentation became an ever decreasing dot of blue and green.

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‘I won’t ask you again,’ Penelope shrieked. ‘Turn around.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t do that,’ the beige man replied in his filament voice.

‘You can and you will,’ Penelope said. ‘Or, or…’ A proper threat failed to come to her, and her words trailed off.

‘Or we’ll smash every one of these plants!’ Grace yelled. She immediately followed through on her threat and lifted one of the small shrubs into the air, throwing it against one of the bare patches of ground. The pot shattered, and Grace ground her foot into the roots of the plant for good measure. She then gave Penelope a wink.

Penelope could have cried. Instead she kicked over one of the larger bushes and once more yelled, ‘turn this ship around!’

‘The plants, while regrettable, are not the main reason I was sent to your planet,’ the beige man said. ‘Others have already collected a number of flora samples, and doubtless others will collect more. I can deal with their loss’

‘Then why did you come here?’ Penelope asked.

‘For you. For Miss Penelope Mary Armitage Jones. I was tasked to find you and bring you to our home.’

Penelope half sat, half fell back onto the chair.

It was over. She wasn’t just going to be late, she was going to be absent.

Her stomach curled and she thought she might throw up. Then she looked at Grace and felt a numbness wash over her anxiety, a sense of inevitable helplessness. She would never master time. How could she? It was too big. Too mighty. She might try and parcel it up into bite size portions in order to give her a sense of control over it, drop in some deadlines and events on a calendar and force relevance on them. But time just ticked on endlessly, uncaring to the wants and needs of the people stuck in its flow. Just look at her grandmother, time was already wearing her away.

And that was when Penelope began to cry. Heart weary sobs that constricted her throat and made her feel light headed. She felt her grandmother’s arms around her. Heard the same soft comforting words she heard whenever she’d been upset as a child, which only made her cry more.

When all her tears had ran dry and she’d managed to regain her composure she sat with her grandmother, arms around the older woman. Together they watched space pass them by.

After some time Grace fell asleep. Penelope could hardly blame her. Space might be vast and endless but it was also very empty. Watch it for long enough and it all begins to feel very same-same.

Penelope stood and began to move around the small ship. She studied a number of the plants. They were all fairly common, she saw. All good growers. Weeds as often as not. Then she looked to the beige man. He hadn’t said or done anything since she started crying. Not one word of regret or apology. She approached him and sat looking forward as space and time flew by.

After a moment he spoke.

‘I’m sorry about your grandmother.’

Penelope stared at him in shock.  ‘Excuse me?’ she said.

‘Something similar happens to my people over time. The electric signals weaken, causing them to become confused and disorientated.’

Penelope didn’t know what to say, so she didn’t say anything.

‘Of course, it’s all very treatable.’

She looked at the beige man sternly, not sure she’d heard him right.

‘Did you say treatable?’

‘Yes. It’s just a matter of strengthening the electrical pulses. A small matter for our race, and despite appearances your grey matter is not so different. I strongly expect the same treatment would have similar results on Grace.’

‘You’re saying you’ve solved dementia?’

The beige man looked across at her, and then back out to the front of the ship, before answering with a simple, ‘yes.’

Penelope didn’t know what to say. The implications of that simple statement were huge and amazing. ‘And you could do it for Grace? Once we arrived at your planet?’

‘Of course.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, her throat swelling with emotion once more. ‘If you can really do that, then I don’t even care that I didn’t make it to my presentation.’ Despite those words, and despite how much she meant them, there was still a part of her that felt a loss at giving up her life’s work. ‘Will we ever be able to return to Earth?’ she asked.

The beige man thought, and then answered. ‘That depends on you,’ he said.

‘What does that mean?’

‘My planet has used up all its resources, depleted all its energy. For my people this means disaster. We will starve and die. I was sent to your planet to find a solution, even though it meant using a large chunk of our final supply. We believe you and your studies are that solution. If you’re able to solve our energy crisis, then we will have enough power to return you and your grandmother to earth.’

Penelope thought on that for a moment, the practical part of her brain pushing down the emotional.

‘Okay, deal. But, you should know my work is currently all theoretical. I believe it can be made practical but I can’t do it on my own.’

‘That is fine. Waiting for us when we land are a collection of the greatest scientific minds on our planet, they are waiting to hear from you.’

‘They want me to do a presentation’

‘Correct,’ the beige man said.

‘Well, can we go any faster then?’ she said, smiling. ‘We don’t want to be late.’

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

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June 19, 2018

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Snow Patrol have a new album out, Wildness, and while their last couple of albums didn’t grab me, this one has. It has a good mix of slow melodious ones to pull at the heart strings, like today’s blog song, What if this is all the love your ever get, and some more rocky ones. A very satisfying mix.

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Words written for the year: 82,103

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WordPress, the company I host this website with, reminded me it was our anniversary the other day. Four wonderful years and I, most ashamedly, had not remembered. In order to right this wrong, and because after four years of writing words on a website I’m still keen to continue, I thought I would write a blog about why I blog.

More often that not I use this blog as a kind of therapy. It’s a way for me to get down any insecurities, usually related to writing, or pinpoint particular thoughts or feelings about certain things. Whether that be death, or fear of failure, or my now fiancée or just a train trip . It’s superbly useful. Often by the time I finish one of these therapy blogs I feel more grounded, yet lighter. I know my mind about something, I’ve worked to pull it into a defined shape, and by doing so I’ve lessened the swirl or detritus moving through my head. It truly is a wonderful thing, and a large part of why this part of my blog is labelled ‘Journal’ (see menu bar) is because in a very real sense that is what it is.

I also blog because I like reading other peoples blogs. When I read something that is open and honest, when I can tell someone else is therapising and finding the form of their thoughts, that’s usually when their blog is most engaging. It’s also, uncoincidentally, when they’re closest to defining some truth, and, because of their hard work, I get to gain that truth, and devour it for the ripe apple it is.

Which brings me to the third reason, in case it helps someone. That may sound corny, and is, but I don’t mind corny sometimes. Corny, when done right, is genuinely touching. I’ve read blogs that have helped me, either through the truth nuggets I mentioned earlier, or just by passing on information; whether that be writing advice, well thought out opinions about some issue, or by suggesting things to read. And sometimes bloggers just share photos of their dogs, which is something I will be thankful for every time. I believe the uglier parts of the internet become balanced out by people sharing photos of their dogs. So, if I discover something cool, or have a thought, or have a problem that someone else has, even if I don’t have an answer for it, then I hope by writing it down and posting it to the internet it gives someone something they need. Often, that someone is me.

Fourth, it helps my writing. It gets me out of my head. I don’t edit this blog. Nor do I plan it out, beyond I-think-I-have-a-topic-I-want-to-write-about. These aren’t well sculpted essays, these are the free form thoughts of a man named Damian, and it’s the free form part that’s important. Often I write these blogs when I’ve hit a wall with my creative writing. Either because I’ve don’t know what happens next in a story, or because I’m not feeling it that day (that’s what’s happened today). So, instead, I write a blog. It’s like the honest man’s version of procrastination. But the funny thing is that by doing so it opens those walls, or inserts doors, or whatever the correct analogy is. Often by the time I’m done I’ve figured out a solve, either by distracting my mind, or because writing something, even if it’s just a stream of consciousness, gets the juices flowing, leaving me ready to dig back in to the creative writing. It also helps me work at defining thoughts and describing them, at communicating ideas in a way that is (mostly) clear and concise. Which is a skill I can transfer to all forms of writing.

Mostly though, I do this blog for me. Not only is therapy, hopefully helpful, and a writing tool, but it’s also a record of me. Of my short ill-defined existence. It’s a digital log of the part inside my skull, the part unseen, the part that no photo can capture. It’s a mental photo album. One I can look back on and remember all the thoughts that came before, and the place and person I was when I had them, that when combined, and looked at from a distance, look like the person I am now.

That is priceless.

And that is why I blog.

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Talk soon

Damian

Miss Penelope Mary Armitage Jones (Part 1)

Penelope 2

Miss Penelope Mary Armitage Jones was nothing if not punctual. At thirty five she had yet to be late to a single event, occasion, meeting, or flight. There was nothing in this world that gave her the toxic combination of anxiety and frustration like the prospect of being tardy.

Her grandmother, unfortunately, did not feel the same way.

She, the older of the Jones women, found deadlines to be a fluid concept, one that could be altered through negotiation, pleasantness, or, when previous methods failed, faking senility.

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, created some friction between the two women. As a child, Penelope would throw herself to the floor and scream as loud as she could for as long as she could whenever her grandmother’s tardiness threatened to impeach her own punctuality. Now, as an adult, her aggression was a lot more passive, which is why she was refusing to talk to her grandmother as they sat together in the airport terminal.

‘I still can’t believe that man wouldn’t let us on the fight,’ her grandmother, Mrs Grace Juliet Jones, said for the third time. ‘They’d barely started down the runway. It would have taken us only a minute to catch up.’

Penelope readjusted the bag on her lap, swallowing back the accusatory words she craved to let forth. She was not a child anymore, she reminded herself, as the anxiety and frustration curdled her stomach, she couldn’t scream her way out of this one. At least not externally. Internally she was really letting her grandmother have it.

An airport attendant approached them. ‘Excuse me, Miss Jones?’

‘Yes,’ Penelope and her grandmother said in unison.

‘He said Miss Jones,’ Penelope hissed out of the side of her mouth, then turned back towards the attendant. ‘Yes?’

‘I’m afraid the next flight to Brisbane isn’t for another three hours. The one I was hoping to squeeze you onto is fully booked, so your next option is the twelve o’clock with Tiger Airways.’

‘I see,’ Penelope said in the calmest voice she could manage. ‘Thank you.’

The man nodded and walked away.

‘Oh, well, that’s not too bad,’ Grace said with a small smile.

‘It’s late!’ Penelope snapped. ‘It’s three hours late, is what it is! It’s me being late for the first time in my life, for the most important event in my life. And you say it’s not too bad? Maybe you really are going senile!’

Penelope’s voice had risen to a regrettable volume during the short tirade, drawing a lot of looks from the other waiting passengers. She’d also stood, she realised, and so slowly returned to her seat.

‘Next time I’ll set an alarm,’ her grandmother said, unperturbed by the explosion. ‘Chocolate?’ she asked, thrusting the small bag of chocolate covered peanuts toward her.

Penelope bit back another burst of yelling, one that included the words YOU DIDN’T SET AN ALARM? and instead said in short clipped syllables, ‘I am not talking to you.’

Grace simply shrugged and popped a chocolate covered peanut into her mouth.

Penelope knew she shouldn’t have agreed to let her grandmother accompany her on this trip. She’d done so for two reasons. The first was that, and this was something Penelope wouldn’t admit to her grandmother, she was scared, and so wanted the older woman around for support. The second was that she loved her. Most of the time. Today, not so much.

‘Hello, sorry to interrupt you both, but I think I may be able to help you out.’ Penelope turned in her seat to see a thin, forty something asian man, dressed in beige pants and a beige short sleeved shirt. His shoes were white sneakers, one shade away from being beige.

Penelope smiled thinly, not sure what this man’s deal was and not all that interested in finding out. ‘Thank you, but I’m sure we’ll be okay,’ she said.

‘What are you talking about!’ her grandmother cried in true Grace fashion, which was louder than necessary and with a jangle of earrings. ‘We’ll happily take you up on your offer, young man. As you might have heard, my granddaughter has an event to be at in Brisbane later this afternoon-’

‘Morning!’ Penelope said, horrified at her grandmother’s laissez-faire attitude towards even remembering deadlines, let alone meeting them.

‘-morning,’ Grace continued without dropping a beat, ‘so any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.’ She followed this up by giving the beige man the widest smile she could. The one that used her lips, cheeks, and, most importantly, eyes, and the one weapon she could always rely on to win over even the most hardened of foes.

The beige man simply blinked once, raised the corners of his mouth ever so slightly, and said, ‘great, come with me.’ He turned and begun to walk back down the long corridor.

Penelope watched Grace gather her bag in shock. She grabbed the sleeve of her grandmother’s mustard yellow coat and said, ‘what are you doing?’

‘I’m following the nice man,’ Grave told her.

‘We don’t know that he’s nice. We don’t even know that he’s not a serial killer.’ Penelope said with just a tinge of hysteria.

The beige man had stopped midway down the corridor and was looking back at them, blanked faced.

Grace looked down at Penelope and raised her eyebrows. ‘Who was it that was just yelling at me in the middle of an airport because she didn’t want to be late? This man said he may have a solution for us, I would think you would be grateful. He probably works for the airport and has figured out a way to get us on some flight or something.’

‘But he’s not wearing a uniform. He doesn’t even have a lanyard!’ Penelope said. ‘And why is he wearing all beige? That has to be how serial killers dress.’

‘It’s probably a cultural thing. And serial killers don’t hang out in airports. Well, maybe at arrivals, but not in departure. It just makes no sense, dear.’

‘What doesn’t make sense is how he can help us when we know all flights heading to Brisbane are full.’

‘I don’t know,’ Grace said, putting on her rarely used Grandma voice. ‘But ask yourself this, are you more afraid of finding out this man’s plan, or are you more afraid of being late?’

Penelope let the question sink in. Death or tardiness?

She grabbed her things and stood.

Grace gave the man a consolidating wave as they trotted over to him. He didn’t say anything about the delay, just stated, ‘this way,’ in an emotionless voice and then began walking again.

Grace chatted away at the beige man as he led them first through the artificially lit interior of the airport, and then down into its bowels, through corridors and passageways more commonly used by cleaners and baggage handlers. Penelope hadn’t liked the way the man had looked around first before leading them through the nondescript door that led into the airports backstage. Grace hadn’t seemed to notice. Nor had she seemed to notice that for all her talk the man wasn’t responding to any of her conversation. The only motion he made other than marching forward determinately was to look behind him now and again to ensure Penelope was still there.

‘Excuse me,’ Penelope said after ten minutes of walking and an ever increasing sense of frustration and danger. ‘Where are we going?’

The beige man stopped in front of a door, one no different to the the dozen or so they had already passed. ‘Right here,’ he said, and opened the door to reveal an empty airplane hanger.

Empty was the main thing Penelope noticed about it. Devoid of both people and any mode of transport that would allow them to get to Brisbane in time for her meeting with the university board members. ‘Yep. Okay. Grandma, I think it’s time we went back somewhere public,’ Penelope said.

‘Wait,’ the beige man cried in anguish, his face not matching the emotion in his voice. ‘It’s not what it seems. Please.’

‘Pen, dear. Let’s hear him out.’

Penelope gave her grandmother a look that said,  are-you-kidding-he’s-obviously-a-serial-killer. You know the look.

‘He did say please,’ Grace said in reply.

Then the beige man did something neither Grace nor Penelope could have possibly predicted. He pulled his face off.

No, Penelope realised, that wasn’t entirely true. He still had a face, it was just unlike any face she’d ever seen before. In his hand he held the fleshy mask that had served as his face up until a moment ago. Penelope alternated between looking at the floppy mass of non-skin to the beige man’s non-face. What it most reminded Penelope of was a lumpy light bulb. A bubbled mass of translucent flesh. As she stared numerous small points of lights moved behind the flesh, shifting in random patterns, flaring and dimming.

‘Well,’ Grace said, ‘that’s interesting.’

Penelope experienced a feeling she had never experienced before, something between a scream and a faint. She then surprised herself completely by taking a third option and punching the beige man in his non-face. It felt squishy against her fist, as if she were punching a jellyfish.

‘Penelope!’ her grandmother cried, but Penelope wasn’t listening, she grabbed the older woman by the mustard coloured sleeve and began to run.

She didn’t get far.

The beige man was around and in front of them like a bolt of lightning. ‘No. It’s okay,’ the lumpy globe said with a non-existent mouth. Penelope swung a fist at him again–she really was quite impressed with herself, who knew she had such a fighting spirit–and turned her and Grace around, only to realise they were now trapped between him and the empty airplane hanger. Penelope turned back to him. She pushed Grace behind her and raised her fist again. He moved, a blur of light, and then he was holding her wrist, his luminous face only an inch from her own.

‘Please,’ he said, his grip unmovable. ‘You need to see this.’

Penelope felt a breeze and a pull and realised the three of them were now in the centre of the hanger. Grace let out a small, ‘well…’ and the beige man spun in front of them.

‘Look,’ he said. He pointed a finger out in front of him. His hand, Penelope saw, had the same see through texture his head did. A thin pale tendril stretched out from his finger tip and a bead of light ran down it. It escaped the end of the tendril and landed on an invisible surface which became visible as the bead of light stretched itself over it. The light kept growing, flowing over the invisible objects contours. It then dimmed to reveal something that looked like the combination of a terrarium and a fighter jet. It didn’t take much for Penelope to figure out what it really was.

A spaceship.

The beige man turned to face both of them. ‘Get on, please.’

Knowing that both running and fighting had failed, Penelope instead tried a different tact. ‘Why?’ she asked.

‘I can take you to your meeting,’ he replied.

‘Yes, but why? Why would you want to help me? Why would I trust you? I don’t even know who you are, let alone what you are. So, why?’

The beige man’s blobby head lowered, and Penelope got the sense that he was looking for an answer. Or perhaps he had one and was looking for the best way to share it. The head came back up again. If it had eyes Penelope figured she’d be staring right at them.

‘You are very important where I come from,’ he said. Which of course only brought the question of why back to Penelope’s lips.

‘That I can not tell you,’ his said.

‘Well, you’ll have to tell me something. I’m not going to just climb on some spacecraft without some kind of explanation. You may be an alien, but that doesn’t mean you’re still not a serial killer.’

‘I can’t tell you any more. Not yet. But I can tell you if we don’t leave soon, you won’t make it to your meeting.’

Penelope was torn. She could feel her mind pinballing between the two terrible outcomes.

‘Oh, just get on the damn spaceship, Pen’ Grace cried out. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’

Penelope decided she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

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Part 2 of this story can be found here.

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Thanks for reading.

Damian

May 25, 2018

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New music from Passenger today, an acoustic version of a track entitled Hell or High Water, from his upcoming album. Always a good thing.

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Words written for the year: 75,394

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On Wednesday I had my first evening at home in over a week. A crazy and tiring but wonderful week that included a night on stage with my mates for the last episode of our podcast and a standing ovation that I will never forget. But on Wednesday I was at home, and even though I spent it catching up on house stuff that had been neglected due to aforementioned busy week, it was lovely. I cleaned and organised and finished the night by cooking a large cut of silverside (or corned beef if you prefer).

I quite love silverside, for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s delicious. The second is that it’s delicious but also cheap! The third is that you can make reuben sandwiches with it, which I suppose still ties into the whole deliciousness thing. And the final reason is memories of my dad cooking silverside on a weekend for the whole family. On those days just about everyone was happy. Dad because he got to put his energy into something that wasn’t work, something he could be proud of and share with people. Mum because she didn’t have to cook. And the rest of us because, as previously mentioned, silverside is delicious. Such a simple thing, but such a good one. And now I get to make it for me and my family, aka Holly.

Saying all that, we didn’t actually eat any silverside on Wednesday. The size of the cut was such that it needed three hours of boiling, and, because I didn’t start it until six, that would have meant we wouldn’t have been eating until nine. What I did instead was parcel it up into two person size servings and freeze them; as it de-freezes surprisingly well. I ended up with seven portions for both Holly and I. Seven meals featuring silverside. It’s an oddly appropriate number, because in seven weeks today the lady Holly and I will be heading overseas, and we won’t be back again for three months.

Yeah, I know.

Given the length of time I like to see it as travelling instead of holidaying. To me the distinction is that a holiday is a temporary thing designed towards recharging and relaxing. Whereas we’ll basically be paying ourselves to see, do, and experience things. Things that definitely don’t include being strapped to a desk looking at spreadsheets and emails; so that’ll be nice.

Saying all that this trip will include moments of relaxing. Of course it will. I don’t think it’s a good or wise thing to go hard on travel for a fifteen week stint. It will wipe you out, make you sick of airports and buses and eating out, while also making you miss your own bed (and toilet). No, instead, this trip will have mini holidays within it. Times where I can write and Holly can read. Where we can rest in the foothills of some mountain and just exist for a little bit. I expect it to be magic.

To add to this magic, this trip will have family included as well. Not only will I get to meet my nephew Eli upon our return (currently in utero) but while overseas I’ll get to see my best friend/brother get married off to the love of his life, in Vienna of all places. I never saw that one coming. Not as crazy for her family I’m sure, seeing as they’re all Viennese, but still. We also get to travel with family. Across Slovenia with two of my favourite people, going for walks and drinking whisky. We’ll pass through western Austria with my niece and nephew (and their parents) and get to share in their excitement and exuberance. Then on further, into Germany with my mum and dad, where we’ll visit fairytale places, drink beer and eat rich foods.

And through it all I’ll have Holly by my side. And when we get back, I’ll marry her.

Seven weeks.

Seven Fridays.

Seven silverside dinners.

Can’t wait.

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Talk soon,

Damian

Wall Mounted

Octapus-tentacles-red

The wall mounted tentacles dominated the wood panelled room. Not just with their size–which was immense, groping their way through the space above his head–but also their appearance; alien and wrong. They hung, a trophy, extending out from above the wide fireplace, it’s crackling inferno causing shadows to flicker and twitch against the ceiling. The way the shadows moved made him feel as if they were a moment away from reaching down and pulling him into the lightless realm from where the creature had been spawned.

He sat in a lush chair in the centre of the room, facing the fireplace; the perfect vantage point for viewing the horrible appendages. He’d never liked this room. Not when he’d been a child, back when the walls had been lined with antlers and rhino heads and other pieces of creatures unfortunate enough to find themselves here, and certainly not now. His grandfather knew this. No doubt the reason he’d kept Denis waiting so long.

The heavy door opened soundlessly as the old man entered. He marched, straight backed despite his age, his body upright and rigid. An unlit cigar was clamped tightly between his teeth. He’d been all but forbidden from smoking the foul smelling things after having half a lung removed a decade before, but that hadn’t stopped him from chewing on them; gnawing away at the dense logs until piece by piece he ingested them. His lips had discoloured, small lumps sprouting from them, behind them teeth as rotten as the old man’s soul.

He stopped in front of the tentacles, looked up at them. The pride that radiated from him was suffocating. He took the sodden cigar from his mouth. ‘Do you know why our family succeeds where so many others fail?’ Denis stayed silent. The old man’s ego ensured he needed no encouragement. ‘Fortitude,’ he concluded.

Denis bit back the snide remark that burned at the tip of his tongue. He’d been hearing this speech since he’d first learnt to put on pants. It had impressed him at one point, back before he saw the old man for the narcissistic monster he was. Now it was hot breath from a stale corpse.

He turned to Denis, eyes piercing eyes, a typical turn in the speech, so much so that Denis could mimic the movements and intonations himself. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes in response. It was always best to give the old man nothing, not a scrap of reaction, positive or negative; he’d find some way to use it against you.

‘Courage in pain or adversity,’ he continued, moving on to the definition portion of the speech. Denis let his vision lose focus and blur. It was as bad to stare at the old man’s mouth as it was to look upon the monstrous tentacles. Worse, even. His eyes drifted upwards, taking in the finer details of the thick cephalopod limbs, while his grandfather droned on about how he expected more from a member of his family. How disgusted he was at Denis’s own lack of fortitude.

The first time he’d heard this edition to the speech it had torn the then twelve year old Denis in half. His grandfather had been his hero then, or close enough to. His only male role model and the dominant presence in his life. When he’d said those words, that he’d lacked the all so precious fortitude, Denis had felt his gut fall away, accompanied by a presence in his chest like a vice trying it’s best to squeeze the life out of him. He’d held back the tears for as long as he could, and when they’d come his grandfather had given him that look that Denis would come to know well over the years, the one that said he’d managed to find a new bottom to the pit of disappointment his grandfather saw whenever he looked at him. The ugly sneer had rolled up the left side of the old man’s face and he’d told twelve year old Denis to stop crying or he’d give him something to cry about. He waited a second, then, when Denis’s tears didn’t immediately stop, followed through on his promise, using his gnarled knuckles to crack Denis against the side of the head.

Now the words elicited no emotion in him, or so he told himself.

He let his eyes refocus and took in the length of the longest tentacle. They were hideous, to be sure. Pocked at parts with grids of miniature craters, bubbled at others with mutant suckers of all sizes bunched up against each other, and in between ribbons of ropey twisted muscle. There was something beautiful about the things as well, however. The colours. An oily mix of a dark shimmering rainbow. Used for camouflage, he suspected, now frozen in place, a stunning kaleidoscope of colour.

He ran his eyes towards it’s tip and found it almost impossible to follow the lines of the thing. They twisted up and around on themselves, looking like an M C Escher drawing, where one edge become another, creating an infinite loop. Trying to make sense of those images could drive someone mad. He suspected the same were true of the tentacles and the creature that owned them. More than one person had lost their mind when they’d come up against the beast, either taking their own lives immediately, or doing nothing as the creature did it for them. Not his grandfather, though. Not Frances Haigh.

Denis saw something move from within one of the tentacles craters. Something small and orange.

‘Are you listening?’ the old man barked. Denis looked back to see his grandfather’s diseased mouth curl up into its trademark sneer. ‘I demand your attention, Lieutenant.’

Denis had joined the military in an attempt to gain the old man’s approval, back before he’d learned such a task was impossible. He’d fought at the ocean floor with the rest of the grunts, taking out swarths of the pale, needle toothed monsters they’d come to call Anglers, due to the resemblance of their facial features to that of the angler fish. Their bodies were humanoid, which in many ways Denis found more horrific than their faces. He hated seeing a twisted version of his own species reflected back at him, albeit a human who’d spent a lifetime in the lightless depths of an oceanic trench. While they were terrifying to look at, they were also stupid, and completely undisciplined without the command of their godhead; who’s limbs now decorated the very study he currently sat in. The work had been slaughter, plan and simple, and after four years of service and a promotion to Lieutenant, Denis had left, much to the displeasure of the army, and the disgust of his grandfather.

‘I was saying they are organising again,’ the old man said, gifting a hate filled glare to the tentacles above him.

‘Who are?’ Denis asked.

‘Who? It’s pawns. Keep up, boy.’

‘The anglers? But, how is that possible? That would mean…’ Denis followed the old man’s gaze, and saw another flash of orange.

‘Exactly. It’s still alive, somehow. Or there’s a second one. Either way it’s time for you to stop lazing about and get back to work. I’ve told your old commander to expect you tomorrow.’

Denis looked into his grandfather’s penetrating stare. ‘No.’

‘It wasn’t a question, Lieutenant.’

‘I’m not a Lieutenant.’

The old man strode forward, quick despite his age. He stopped, a step from Denis, and leaned down to glare into his eyes. ‘You have a duty, grandson. To both this family and your country. And you will fulfill it. Am I clear?’

His fetid breath assaulted Denis’s nostrils, not helped by the close up view of his diseased mouth. Denis ignored them both, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the old man’s.

‘No,’ he said again. ‘Any duty I had is gone now, whether you acknowledge it or not. You don’t care about this country, and you definitely don’t care about our family.’ Denis thought of his grandmother, dead five years passed. She had been a victim of the old man for most of her life. She’d worn a constant smile on her face, sure, but it had been strained, and belied by the torment that never quite seemed to leave her eyes. Denis was sure the strain of being the old man’s wife for so many years had lead to her early grave. His grandfather had barely seemed to acknowledge her passing. And that wasn’t even counting for Denis’s own mother, the old man’s daughter.

‘You care about yourself. You want me in this fight because it gives you more leverage to have a grandson at the front of the action. Well I’m not interested in fighting, let them have the sea for all I care, and I’m not interested in being your instrument, not anymore. The only reason I came here today was to see the look in your eye as I told you so.’ Denis permitted himself a smile then, a small quirk of his mouth. It had the desired result.

The old man’s eyes bulged with rage as angry as any sea, as both sides of his lips curled upwards, baring his rotten teeth. Denis moved to rise from the seat. ‘Sit down!’ Francis spat, literally. Denis wiped the drops of spittle from his cheek. ‘You think you can defy me? You can’t. You’ll do as I say or I’ll have your limbs hung up on my wall alongside the monsters, do I make myself clear?’

‘Fuck you,’ Denis said. It may not have been eloquent, but damn did he enjoy saying it.

The old man raised his fist to deliver his patented backhand, as a drop of orange fell from the tentacle above, landing perfectly in between his discolored lips. He flinched back, and Denis saw him swallow instinctively as he looked up at the tentacles with confusion.

A shudder rocked the old man’s body. He turned back to Denis, who, for the first time in his life, saw fear on the old man’s face. Then his pupils dilated until his eyes were almost all black, and his face went slack.

The hand that a moment ago was raised to hit Denis moved to the old man’s cheek. Yellow fingernails dug into flesh and tore a strip off. The old man looked at it curiously with his too wide eyes, then smiled as he put the flesh in his mouth.

Denis stood, kicking the chair behind him as he did so. His grandfather looked back at him. An alien sound came from his throat, a rumble, wavering and watery. Denis took two steps backs and eyed the room for an escape. The old man was between him and the door, and Denis wasn’t sure if the curtained windows even opened. The sound changed, rising and falling as his grandfather’s mouth and tongue moved, struggling to work together. It changed again, almost becoming words. ‘D…D…D…’ he mumbled.

‘Denis?’ Denis asked, thinking the old man was trying to call to him. ‘I’m here. I’m right here, grandfather.’

‘Drown,’ the old man finished in a voice not his own. ‘You shall all drown.’ He blinked wet eyes and looked around the room, examining it as if for the first time. The wide pupils turned skyward and followed the tentacles to where they were mounted above the fireplace. ‘Proud fool,’ he rumbled, a wet laugh echoing from his throat.

Denis watched as the old man looked down at his hands. ‘Expiring,’ he said, picking at the flesh on the back of his hand. He turned to look at Denis, stepped towards him, eyeing him from top to bottom. ‘A poor replacement,’ he said, regretful, ‘but it’ll do.’

Denis didn’t wait. He attacked. He swept low, seeking to knock the old man from his feet. His grandfather’s leg squished sickeningly against the kick, bending inwards as though filled with jelly instead of sinew and bone. Denis looked to his grandfather’s face, his eyes now closed, then back down where he saw a yellowish liquid leak from the spot he had struck.

Whatever had taken over his grandfather curled in on itself, pulling his neck in and shoulders forward. The old man’s face began to swell and turn yellow. It bulged outward in waves, lumps rising and falling, disfiguring him almost beyond recognition. Not just his face, Denis realised, the old man’s whole body was roiling with some horrid internal flux.

Denis scrambled backwards.

The old man’s body mushroomed and exploded, releasing a sea of small orange pods. They rained down on Denis, an unavoidable and disastrous hail that smelt of salt and meat and age.

Any that found skin first burned then melted against his flesh. Denis screamed. They were inside of him before he could even attempt to sweep them away.

What was left of his grandfather fell to the floor.

The thing that was inside Denis opened his eyes. It breathed and coughed, and lost somewhere within, Denis could feel it’s thoughts squirm around his own. The thing found the idea of breathing air repulsive. It craved a dark and never ending pressure, a world made of water. It craved destruction and worship.

Denis tried to speak, and failed. He was a whisper, lost in a cyclone. Trapped forever in the lightless realm of his own mind.

The thing now in control of Denis’s body stood, stepped through the old man’s remains and out the door.

++++

Thanks for reading,

Damian

April 17, 2018

11_01_2018

Dermot Kennedy and his track Young & Free is our blog song for today.  He only has an EP out at the moment but with that killer voice an LP has to be on the way.

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Words written for the year: 62,493

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Hello, again.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last few weeks due to gaining a new position at work. The new position isn’t really all that interesting, but it is a promotion of sorts, one that’ll see me retaining my current salary while going down to three days a week…eventually. For now I’m actually working more, as not only have I already started my new position but I’m holding the fort for my old one until a replacement is found. Which is why I’m guilty of blog neglect.

To be honest, the whole thing’s made me pretty tired and grumpy for the last week, except for when I’m too tired to even be grumpy. As well as the blog, my daily word limit has taken a hit, as has my runs per weeks, and, because food = comfort, so has my diet. The snowball is rolling down the hill. However, it’s a snowball I’m aware of and so I’m putting my foot out and am going to try and slow the roll. Or, in other words, practice more self care. Work, while demanding, and probably full time for at least another month, can’t demand all my energy, and so I’m going to stop giving it to them. Likewise, I’m going to (try and) not beat myself up about hitting word limits. I was talking with Holly about this yesterday and she reminded me that I’ll have time later in the year to catch up on any missing words. I think the other thing that’s important to remember, especially for me, is that even when I’m on top of things, even when I’ve planned out tasks and set achievable goals, even when my self control is finely tuned and aimed at my target like an arrow to a bulls-eye, shit happens. Life will always get in the way at some point. Any control I think I have over events will prove to be false, and, like all of us, I just need to roll with the punches. Because really, that’s the answer; be fluid. Things will happen and when they happen it’s up to the individual to adapt rather than rally against it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Letting some things go so I can complete others with the thought that time is long and fluid and will be mine again one day.

In the meantime other things have also been happening outside of work. The podcast I’ve been a part of for the last few years, Movie Maintenance, is ending…but will be replaced with something new. It’s exciting. We made the announcement over all the social medias last week and then something truly amazing happened. All these comments of commiseration for the loss of movie maintenance started coming through. But not just commiserations. Also, thank you’s, and heartfelt appreciation for the show. Comments from other emerging writers who listen and wanted to pass on their gratitude for the episodes on writing advice, and tell us how much we’ve helped with their writing. It was brilliant. It made my day and came in the middle of a week where a pick-me-up like that meant so much. So, for any fans reading this, thank you.

We also will be having a final live show in Melbourne to see us off, which you can get tickets for here: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=372752&

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In other news, a few weeks ago I stumbled across a video among the dense jungle of distractions that is the internet. The video was a Photoshop tutorial that detailed how to create geometric versions of photos, specifically animal heads. You may have seen these around, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

Loki

The process was surprisingly simple thanks to Photoshop’s amazing functionality, the complex series of algorithms running it all, and my own familiarity with Photoshop. Either way, the video went for about six minutes and by the time it was done I had learned a new trick. I gave it a go and had success. The image above being my first attempt.

Like I said, they’re not actually all that complex. It’s mostly just the usual combination of concentration, repetition, and a sprinkle of imagination that all creative endeavours require. I actually find the process really calming, akin to the adult colouring books that were very briefly all the rage. I’m now in the habit of chipping away at these digital art pieces in the evening with the TV on in front of me, clicking away at pixels until I carve out a finished product.

The whole experience has made two things very clear to me:

  1. That the internet is a treasure trove of learnable awesomeness – if you’re willing to dig through the not awesome parts.
  2. Creating a new thing, however basic, is genuinely amazing.

That second part is not news but it is a good thing to remember, namely, the fact that being creative means you are actually creating something. Something new. Something that didn’t exist until you put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or combined ingredients, or threaded a needle through fabric, or, well, I think you get the idea.

What really amazes me about it, about creation in general–from a digital image all the way up to life itself–is that the process involves combining components that already exist in order to create something new. In this case photos and Photoshop, with just that sprinkle of imagination, and then the end product is unique from anything that ever existed before. The same is true of writing. Often stories are made up of a millions of different little sources of inspiration, that come from things that already exist out in the world. But that when combined (and sprinkled) create something new. Then even more fantastic, once than new thing is out in the world it too becomes an ingredient, a component to be used, and assimilated, and combined, to create some other new creation.

I think that’s what’s so great about being creative. Not only do you get enjoyment and satisfaction from the process, you also gain something. Something that didn’t exist but now does because you chose to put the time, focus, and imagination into it. Something that you can look at, and share, and put on a t-shirt.

Which is what I think I’m going to do with the geometric animals. I’ll let you know.

Until then. Here’s a few more I wanted to share with you:

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Talk soon,

Damian

Nemesis

depositphotos_33247949-stock-photo-classified-ad copy

The ad read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

I had seen it last week in The Gazette, in the tiny half page section they still reserved for classifieds. I’d read it over a coffee from my usual seat in the cafe after completing my morning run. Something I did every Sunday. It had caused me to emit a small laugh–nothing more than a barely audible exhalation out of my nose–and to wonder at the weirdness of people, before turning the page and forgetting about it completely; or so I had thought.

I walked over to the adjacent supermarket and, while dawdling past the fluorescent lit shelves with a shopping basket in one hand and a shopping list in the other, the words of the ad came back to me.

It had to be a kid, I thought as I passed the shelf full of a seemingly endless variety of packaged water. But then, a mobile number was attached, and how would a kid know how to post a classified anyway? Why would they bother? Surly they’d just throw something like that up on their social media or on a forum somewhere. The medium of the advertisement alone signified an adult, as did the language. Which only raised more questions in my mind.

As I perused the vegetables I wondered who this person was. Where they male or female? At a guess, probably male. But then you never knew. I mean, I’m female and I’ve been reading comic books since I was eight. The poster of the ad had to be a superhero aficionado, surely. Who else would put a call out for a villainous nemesis if not a lonely comic book obsessed viglianti wannabe?

I saw my reflection in the glass of the supermarket freezers and realised I could be describing myself. Well, I wasn’t obsessed obsessed. I had my collection, sure, but I didn’t turn my apartment into a shrine to the genre like some people did. At the very least I knew the difference between fiction and reality, unlike the poster of the ad.

I told myself to stop thinking about it and focused on my shopping list. I had already walked past half a dozen items I needed while lost in thought.

+

That night as I sat in front of the television I caught myself thinking about who would answer an ad like that. Someone similar to the person who posted it no doubt. Two nerds, likely out of shape, running around the city at night, pretending to play good guy versus bad guy. Not that all nerds were out of shape, of course. Look at me, I completed an iron woman last year and I still consider myself a nerd. Not that I would answer the ad, of course.

Which made me wonder if anyone had answered it yet. Unlikely. Right? Surely not. Not that it mattered. Not that I cared. It was silly. I was wasting my time wondering about it, and had missed most of what had happened on my show. I focused on the programming and let the thoughts about the ad slip from my mind.

+

At work the next day I managed to forget about the ad. There was a warehouse to run, stock to load, people to talk to. I didn’t have time to think about a stupid bit of frivolity from the local paper. It was probably a joke anyway.

‘What’s that your whispering?’ Marcus had asked me while I was checking over the mornings order; some two hundred drums of gasoline to be shipped overseas somewhere, but which had none of the right permits.

‘Sorry?’ I responded, not realising I had been whispering anything.

‘That thing you’ve been whispering? Something about villainous, and convenience. You’ve been doing it for the last hour. It’s driving me nuts.’

I froze, thinking back. I had been saying the words of the ad. In fact, they’d been playing over and over in my head, like a song stuck on repeat. They were playing right now.

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

‘Ah, it’s just an ad jingle,’ I said, covering. ‘Sorry, didn’t even realise I was singing it.’

‘Yeah? Haven’t heard that one. What’s it an ad for anyway?’

‘Um, you know. I don’t remember,’ I said. Marcus gave me an odd look, one I probably deserved, one I probably would have given myself had our positions been reversed. They were used to given me odd looks around here anyway. I knew they had jokes about me. I was the loner. The weird chick who worked out too much. The one to avoid unless you wanted to hear about comics for two hours straight. I didn’t mind, mostly.

‘Sorry. I’ll stop,’ I said, telling myself as much as him.

But I didn’t stop, at least not internally. The words kept swimming round my head for the rest of the day.

+

A day passed, and then another, and I had mostly managed not to think about the ad. Occasionally it would pop up in my mind, but I would squash the thought whenever it presented itself and get on with whatever I was doing. By Friday I think I had genuinely forgotten about it, losing myself in the usual routines of the week. On Saturday, I had busied myself with a triathlon, a trip to the movies, and then a dinner out by myself.

Then Sunday had come and with it my trip to the cafe to treat myself to breakfast.

It was raining again, the scene all but identical to the week before. As soon as I sat down in my regular spot the memory of the ad returned. I couldn’t not check. I went to the counter and got that days copy of The Gazette, then returned to my seat and turned immediately to the classifieds. There it was, slightly altered from last week. Today it read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229. Serious enquiries ONLY.

So, they’d got some interest, but only by people who were looking to make fun. None by anyone who took it sincerely. Not like me, a small part of me thought. I quieted that part, and turned instead to the front page of the paper to distract myself. It didn’t work.

I turned the pages but I wasn’t taking any of it in. Instead I was asking questions I knew I shouldn’t be asking. Things like: what would make a good nemesis? Or, what would my first crime be? I knew the answer to the former. Decades of reading comics had instilled in me an appreciation when it came to a well defined villain. They were usually broken in some way. Whether by a unresolvable loss, or just worn down by the monotony of life. They were people with skills, often overlooked. Accomplished, but only to themselves. Unappreciated by anybody else. They were, if done right, real people with real goals. Mirrors of the hero, who just went about things in a different way. Often in a way that made more sense. They were, arguably, heros in their own right. Just, misguided.

As for the second question, I had no answer. Or, at least, I didn’t allow myself one.

I tore out the ad and put it in my pocket.

+

The next day at work I had planned to catch up on some paperwork. Instead I locked myself into my small office at the back of the warehouse and drew. I’m not an excellent illustrator, but I’m passable. Helped by years of tracing characters from the colourful pages of my favourite comics.

What I drew were outfits. Costumes. What I would wear, hypothetically, were I to become a super villain. I went with a charcoal colour spectrum. I had never liked villains that were as flashy as the hero. Plus, it couldn’t be too cartoonish. Something I could wear through a crowd without getting any odd looks. Something tight that billowed at the edges a little, with a hood that could be slipped on quickly. I’m willing to admit some bias, but I thought it looked quite good. Menacing. I decided to even have an attempt at making it, just to see what it would look like.

It was even better than expected.

+

That Sunday the ad was still there.

+

It became a mental puzzle for me; If I were to commit a crime, how would I do it?

The warehouse would be the ideal location, I thought the follow Monday while doing my early morning inspections. I knew the space, the schedules, the flaws. I still didn’t know what the crime would be, but that was less important than that it be explosive, a real performance. Something to draw the media, give them a story. A story about me. I mean, my alter ego.

I would need an alibi, of course, as my intimate knowledge of the place would also make me a suspect, but that wouldn’t be too hard. I had set up a camera outside my apartment over a year ago, and I knew how to edit the metadata. I could simply tell anyone asking that I had been home all night, and then show them footage from a different evening. I had plenty of nights where I had stayed home alone.

Probably best if I tell a few of my coworkers and neighbours that I was feeling unwell beforehand too. Perhaps store my costume at work, change when I get there. The fire escape to my apartment was rarely used. It would be easy enough to get down and up it without anyone seeing me. I could then ride a bike out here. It wouldn’t be very heroic but it would be discreet.

All the pieces were coming together. For the puzzle, of course.

+

I wouldn’t give myself a name, I decided as I was working out the following evening. Let the news outlets decide that. I wondered what they would chose.

+

I bought a burner phone the next day, just in case.

+

I called the number two nights later, just to see what the person’s voice was like. It was close to three am, but I couldn’t sleep. I placed the ad in front of me, although I knew the phone number off by heart. I had set the burner phone to private, and then slowly dialled each number, my heart racing. He picked up on the fourth ring. It was a he, as I’d expected. ‘Hello,’ he said.

My adrenaline spiked and I hung up the phone and dropped it to the counter.

My hands were shaking, and something like a giggle was coming from my mouth. I put one of my shaking hands over it to quiet myself.

The burner phone began to ring.

I stared at it, frozen, until it rang out.

Then it began to ring again.

I slowly lifted it off the counter and looked at the screen. The number was private, but I was confident I knew who it was. I told myself not to answer. To turn off the phone and destroy it, along my costume, and plans, and all the other steps I had already put in place. But my finger moved almost against my will.

Or perhaps with it. Could I really still deny my motivation? My desire?

‘Hello,’ he said again. His speech was deep, with a slight accent, perhaps Indian? I had expected the weasley voice of a stereotypical dweep. This wasn’t that.

‘I’ll be your nemesis,’ I heard myself say in a voice that was out of breath.

There was a pause. I could hear him breathing.

‘You’re responding to my ad?’ he said, and I let out an exhale, only then realising I had been holding my breath.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I am.’

‘And, this isn’t a joke? Because if it is I-’

‘No! No, I am very serious. Very. I already have a costume, and a plan, and, and I’ll be your nemesis. I want to be. I…I need to be.’

Another pause.

‘Okay. Okay. That’s…this is great.’ I could hear the smile in his voice, hear the excitement I felt in myself reflected back from him. ‘When are you-’

‘Thursday week. A warehouse down near the docks. On Grattan Street. Around midnight.’

‘Okay. I’ll see you then.’

The line went dead, and I smiled.

+

The footage had gone viral.

We had fought hand to hand as the gasoline and warehouse burned behind us. He had been beautiful. A pure white outfit, stark against his brown skin. The strong brooding ghost-of-the-night type. I had slipped in a monologue about how I was going to save this city by destroying it. Not very original perhaps, but I’ll do better next time.

They’d called me the grey moth.

He, my nemesis, had said I’d deserved something more sinister.

I said I didn’t mind. I’ll make them fear it.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian